"Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots.... Any time you skip a commercial.....you're actually stealing the programming"
April 29, 2002 2:26 PM   Subscribe

"Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots.... Any time you skip a commercial.....you're actually stealing the programming" According to Jamie Kellner, CEO of the Turner Broadcasting system, you're committing a crime if you don't watch every commercial during a broadcast. Even going to the bathroom doesn't seem to be a good enough excuse to him for missing a commercial. While I sympathize with those who are trying to create and maintain business models for content and programming in these days of advanced technology, arguing that the use of this technology is some kind of moral lapse is both laughable and insulting.
posted by gspira (35 comments total)
I can't remember when I signed that contract with Turner. Did I sign one for NBC too? Geez, you'd think I'd remember that. Laughable and insulting hardly begins to describe the arrogance involved in a statment like that.
posted by eyeballkid at 2:34 PM on April 29, 2002

what if you don't buy the products the commercials promote? further moral decay?

i agree gspira, laughable and insulting.

sounds like they are smoking the same crack the record industry has got a hold of...
posted by th3ph17 at 2:35 PM on April 29, 2002

no talking! (or they'll glue your eyes open)
posted by rhyax at 2:41 PM on April 29, 2002

i can't agree with laughable and insulting. i'm sorry. now if you'd said moronic and insipid...
posted by quonsar at 2:41 PM on April 29, 2002

When I watch TV I feel like I've bought the commercials, not the show, since I spend more time seeing ads for cars and heart-burn/diahera medication.
posted by Dark Messiah at 2:43 PM on April 29, 2002

Here's what he had to say about bathroom breaks:

CW: What if you have to go to the bathroom or get up to get a Coke?

JK: I guess there's a certain amount of tolerance for going to the bathroom. But if you formalize it and you create a device that skips certain second increments, you've got that only for one reason, unless you go to the bathroom for 30 seconds. They've done that just to make it easy for someone to skip a commercial.

It's easy to laugh at this, but you should be worried. All the studio/network execs think this way and they're spending enough money on lobbying to bring Congress around to their way of thinking.
posted by cnelson at 2:48 PM on April 29, 2002

on reflection, i HAVE NO CONTRACT WITH ANY NETWORK. i have no obligation to even own a television receiver, much less turn it on. the fact that when i do turn it on, there is programming there is due to the speculative actions of others. all of that programming was placed there on a bet by the network - a bet that they could attract enough eyes to enable them to sell advertising to other people who are also speculating that enough of those eyes will actually watch the advertising and be influenced by it such that increased sales recover the cost of the advertising. i had no part in this scheme, and i'm in no way responsible or obligated to ensure the success of ANY of these gamblers. you pays yer money, you takes yer chances.
posted by quonsar at 2:53 PM on April 29, 2002

i'm picturing smartTV...with eye tracking technology that will KNOW if you aren't watching.

Dave, you aren't watching this lovely pepsi commercial. Must I show you a Golden Girls rerun instead of Star Trek?

Yes HAL, I'm sorry, i'll pay attention.

posted by th3ph17 at 2:59 PM on April 29, 2002

What's really funny about this is that stations are either (a) broadcast over the airwaves, which are public to begin with, or (b) transmitted over satellite/cable, in which case the stations obtain a per user fee. If Turner finds the current business model not to its liking, it's free to get out of the business. Suggesting your customers are immoral and unethical is a stupid, stupid move.
posted by pardonyou? at 3:06 PM on April 29, 2002

Even going to the bathroom doesn't seem to be a good enough excuse to him for missing a commercial.

posted by y2karl at 3:12 PM on April 29, 2002

What's next? You have a tv in your house, you are not allowed to turn it off?
posted by andrewraff at 3:15 PM on April 29, 2002

I thought we had a moratorium on Onion links.

Oh, wait - this is real?
posted by owillis at 3:18 PM on April 29, 2002

Does this mean that Max Headroom is no longer 20 minutes into the future?

Janie turns to the TV, which is airing a sumo wrestling match. She pushes a button, and the TV turns off.

JANIE: Edison, an off switch.

The two look at the TV in amazement.

METRO: She'll get years for that. Off switches are illegal.

posted by NortonDC at 3:19 PM on April 29, 2002

What's next? You have a tv in your house, you are not allowed to turn it off?

Not only that, but it watches you back, Winston.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:20 PM on April 29, 2002

The basic cable TV business is based on hidden fees -- where users pay for subscriptions to channels they don't watch -- so this is the height of hypocrisy.
posted by Iberaband at 3:22 PM on April 29, 2002

Similar situation addressed by The Ethicist:
Annoyed by those blinking ads that crowd into Web pages, I employed some tricks I picked up as a software engineer to blank out many of them. Given that the ads pay for the Web sites, am I obligated to allow the junk through?

You have no duty to consume advertising. There is no implied agreement between you and the sponsor whereby the sponsor finances a Web site in exchange for your perusing a sales pitch ... Free speech is matched by the freedom of others to ignore that speech; ideas may not be imposed upon us.

posted by Shadowkeeper at 3:42 PM on April 29, 2002

In the meantime my Tivo and I will be doing our best to avoid all commercial breaks.

Post-TiVo I still find myself watching the occasional advert. Usually for something I'm either actually interested in, or was eye-catching enough to make me pay attention. The ones at each end of the break stand the best chance, which is pretty much the norm, without TiVo, right? I mean, I dunno about you, but pre-TiVo, I'd go off and do something else during the breaks. Channel hop, go to the kitchen, bathroom, whatever. Quite often I'd end up not actually coming back....

...but then I guess he's not talking about ffwding through ads, he's talking about total ad-skip, universal adoption of which would spell the end of the ad-funded television model. Which may not actually be a bad thing...
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:45 PM on April 29, 2002

I hate to be a stickler, but that wasn't Ted, and I believe Ted already left the business, if I'm not mistaken.
posted by dglynn at 3:52 PM on April 29, 2002

I've always maintained that if television advertisers are ever able to get feedback on how many people watch their commercials, you would either see television advertising die as quickly as web advertising, or there will be a scrambling to reshape the advertising model. This just confirms that they are already thinking about how to keep advertising in the consumers face whether he wants it there or not. I don't think it will be long before we see the random pop-up commercial come to television.

Of course advertisers want something for their money, that's to be expected, and of course the viewer doesn't want to be treated as a consumer every time he turns on the television. It's going to be interesting to watch how the struggle plays out.
posted by mikhail at 4:00 PM on April 29, 2002

Just another mouthpiece talking up the game to keep the advertisers happy.
posted by solistrato at 4:02 PM on April 29, 2002

You all have to understand, the scariest thing for the current crop of broadcasters is the PVR (Personal Video Recorder Tivo and the like) will reduce income a la the dotcom bust.

When you can now start a half hour late and skip all commercials that starts to cut into what the broadcaster is selling to his advertisers (namely eyeballs).

Now I hate ads generally be it on TV or on the web but I suck it up realizing that this is how these people who provide content that I enjoy and covet are able to publish what I want.

Whether you have a moral duty to watch ads isn't really an issue and I doubt anyone would say they feel compelled to watch ads. But neither is it the broadcasters responsiblity to provide compelling content especially if they are not making a dime off of it!.

I have to say this is from a trade mag and he's preaching to the choir a bit. As much as no one in the industry wants to admit that all of them would have loved to have made Tivo and ReplayTV illegal ideas a long time ago.

And I for one can understand their concern. (meanwhile I'm gonna go home and watch last night's 6 feet under on my PC at home ;)

and oh Norton Max is back
posted by bitdamaged at 4:02 PM on April 29, 2002

yes, but just because it isnt a blatant commercial doesnt mean it's programming, in many cases, the AOL/Time Warner "programming" is utter crap that they've shown repeatedly over the last 25 years.

how many times will they shove "Two Mules For Sister Sarah" at me?

Go back to folding your golden parachute, Jamie Kellner, it's the only things most of you CEOs are any good at.
posted by tsarfan at 4:36 PM on April 29, 2002

Not to hijack the thread, but Max Headroom is coming back on the air? Good gravy, I might get cable just so I can suck the video feed right off the tv and into the hard drive. I've been trying to find old Max stuff for years...

Um, and Jamie? I'll be happy to watch the commercials if the stuff you guys put on the air is worthwhile. As far as I'm concerned, you're in breach of contract whenever you broadcast garbage.
posted by RakDaddy at 4:40 PM on April 29, 2002

Another episode in the ongoing effort by Corporate America to transform the very act of consumption into a moral imperative. The most frightening thing is, Kellner probably believes what he's saying.
posted by Ty Webb at 5:38 PM on April 29, 2002

I _always_ pay the _greatest_ possible attention to each and every commercial. I can't miss a second of their thrilling plots, really ! Man without spots tv would be a waste of time ! Who cares about Angelina Jolie, I want to see a nice girl OH she looks so happy, she sells tampons like they are airplane tickets, they always launch from that friggin plane I don't know why !

I want to see beautiful smiling faces , they're always happy , man I don't know their pushers but that's better then crack ! Oh and I wish my girl worked in tv so I could see her in victoria secret commercials each and every moment ! Jealous ? no no :) all my friends come here for Bud ! Fuck Yeah man, serious WAAASSAAA !!

All you Chix are belong to us !
posted by elpapacito at 5:46 PM on April 29, 2002

The most frightening thing is, Kellner probably believes what he's saying

and he forgets that we pay rent for the cable (and we the people also *own* the broadcast airwaves).
posted by caraig at 5:48 PM on April 29, 2002

a couple of people have mentioned public ownership of the airwaves. you should know just how quickly that can change: the cellular industry has already successfully lobbied to have large portions of the 800-900mhz bands rendered off limits. that was, i believe, in 1996. bought themselves some congresscritters and had themselves a law written. you are now a criminal if you intercept cellular calls. up until recently most scanners could be easily modified to allow reception of the prohibited band anyway, nowadays most of those scanners are literally 'one chip wonders' - there is no accessible circuitry you can modify anymore. money talks, freedom walks. it could happen to the rest of the spectrum just that easily.
posted by quonsar at 6:06 PM on April 29, 2002

Does this mean that everytime I see a billboard on the side of the highway, I'm obligated to stop the car and stare at it for 30 seconds?

Christ, I get about the same amount of advertising from the shows themselves -- product placements, etc -- than I do from those two minutes or so of packaged torture.
posted by mkn at 6:09 PM on April 29, 2002

It's stuff like this that reminds me how prophetically brilliant things like Network and Max Headroom were (aside: TechTv? Never heard of it, but I'll have to look for it now if they're going to be airing Max Headroom... I loved that show back when it was original on, so naturally it got axed pretty quickly.).

Clearly, the man is a moron for a) even thinking this, and b) atually saying it aloud. Nothing so beautifully ironic as capitalists bemoaning the functioning of a market place.

There is no implied contract or moral obligation; as quonsar noted above, advertising represents a bet by the broadcasters and advertisers alike on how effective and widespread their ads will be (not even touching on the issue of who the airwaves belonged to). Similarly, I agree with mikhail that if television ever had the ability to measure precisely the effectiveness of their ads the way ad-funded dot-com sites did, they too might suddenly find the well running dry.

Then again... Nike isn't trying to sell you shoes in its ads; it's trying to make you part of the Nike hivemind, refashioning your every facet of life and lifestyle into a part of the Nike brand- shoes, clothes, food, hobbies, leisure time, where you live- eventually, everything Nike. The replacement of the Nation-State with the Brand Label-State.

As a result, there could be an unintended consequence to the TiVo's: fully integrated product placement. It's already happening, but slowly for now. The end of the commercial break could result in greater infiltration of the advertiser's message into the programming itself (and the news?) where it can't be zapped away with a button push. The lifestyle/branding becomes the show itself as the next iteration of Friends has the sitcom pals both working and spending all their free time at a Starbucks, a Nike store, a Disney store, and an REI. This was sort of the state of TV in its infancy; we may return to that model with a vengeance, as the concept of Brand Lifestyle promoted in media becomes not just a possibility for advertisers as it is now, but in fact the only and best choice left: creating vertical media outlets that control content creation and distribution to best initiate the viewing audience into living the Approved consumer lifestyle.
posted by hincandenza at 6:27 PM on April 29, 2002

To me, the sounds absurd. The networks and the advertisers both work under the assumption that not everybody watching the programming is going to watch every single commercial. The entire reason why advertising companies work really hard to come up with the next new gimmick is because they need to grab and hold the viewer's attention. everybody knows that commercial breaks are used to go to the bathroom or get snacks. As a result there is no implied or explicit contract for 100 percent viewing.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:40 PM on April 29, 2002

I'm a good consumer. I watch all the commercials. Frankly, it's because they're better than most of the shows. Or perhaps the shows suck on purpose, so that the commercials look better by comparison.
posted by jonmc at 6:51 PM on April 29, 2002

I don't have cable tv, I don't have satellite tv, one of the two airwave channels I do receive is publicly funded, and I watch less than three hours of television a week.

Am I going to hell for this?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:31 PM on April 29, 2002

In order for all these network shows to be produced in the first place, someone does have to pay for them. So if everybody skips the commercials with their PVRs, the networks have to turn either to subscription-based models or to greatly expand product placement. Your choices for TV will be either to pay for it, or sit through shows that have comercials as an intrinsic part of the program.

Fortunately, there's Metafilter. TV is already obsolete. Thanks MeFi.
posted by Loudmax at 10:06 PM on April 29, 2002

Suppose, given the right interactive technology and individualized program feeds (so that delays are possible), you had to answer a quick question about the advertised product before the show would continue. There might be five or ten commercials in rotation, each saying specific things about the product, and you would have to select the right answer:

The new Oldsmobile:
1. Not your father's Oldsmobile.*
2. Not on your sweet nelly.
3. To be or not to be?
4. Don Knotts.

After you had learned the right answers, you wouldn't have to watch the commercials, but by then the advertisers would be happy that you had memorized their message and would still have to think, "Yes, it's not your father's Oldsmobile" every time you wanted to start the show after one of their commercials. If the questions were different in different homes, even a cheatsheet (or a call from a friend or a web site) would still force someone in the room to read the question and review the statements and select the right answer, which would drive the advertiser's message deeper into that person's mind. If you get the answer wrong, the commercial plays again, and then you ar given another opportunity to answer the question (or a similar question from a similar commercial).

Now suppose that all the best shows are distributed this way. Do you stop watching the West Wing or ER or I Love Lucy or whatever the hell it is that wastes your evenings at the moment, or do you learn the slogans and answer the questions?

* Pardon the old slogan. I haven't seen US commercials in donkeys, but I thought a US slogan would be the best example here.
posted by pracowity at 11:03 PM on April 29, 2002

Man, you guys and changing fonts.

My local NBC affiliate does something that annoys me, because, I'll admit, I'm a flipper. They show a 30 second spot hyping the local news, right after the break. Then before the break ends, they'll show a quick (5 seconds) summary of what they just showed 90 seconds ago, just to catch those people who weren't looking the first time.

I don't have a TiVo, but I sure wish i did.

I agree that it's insulting to say that I'm stealing content from a service that I already pay for. $35.00/month, IMHO, is far too much to pay for the 6th grade level of programming that i actually receive. More often I find myself watching original shows on HBO, like 6 feet under, containing no advertisements at all. I will go to the bathroom when i need to, thank you very much.
posted by schlaager at 12:38 PM on April 30, 2002

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